To pray “in Jesus’ name” (Jn. 14:13) does not mean that Jesus is bound to answer our requests the way we want. It is not a set of magic words that constrict God from acting according to His will. In fact, to pray, “in Jesus’ name” is to request the will of God above all else (1 Jn. 5:14-15). It is to place oneself under God’s authority and to embrace and be satisfied with what God decrees and how God answers — regardless of what we wanted when we prayed.
John MacArthur expands this principle [“Prayer as Worship,” in Let Us Pray]:
Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). The purpose of all legitimate prayer is not to fulfill the felt-needs or material desires of the one praying, but to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and to magnify His glory. Prayer is not about getting what I want, but about the fulfillment of God’s will. The proper objective of prayer is not to enlarge my borders, build my empire, or expand my wallet but to further the Kingdom of God. The point is not to elevate my name but to hallow God’s name. Everything in prayer revolves around who God is, what God wants, and how God is to be glorified. That is the sum and substance of proper praying.
Any prayers that are self-consuming, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing; any prayers that seek whatever I want no matter what God wants; any prayers that suggest God must deliver because I have demanded it-those are prayers that take His name in vain. Such praying is an egregious sin against the nature of God, against the will of God, and against the Word of God.
“Name it, claim it” prayers; the notion that God wants you always healthy, wealthy, prosperous, and successful; and lists of selfish requests are all quite at odds with the spirit of Jesus’ model prayer. Such requests are expressly excluded from the many promises that God will hear and answer our prayers Games 4:3). The faulty belief that underlies all such praying is no small error. It is rooted in a serious misunderstanding about the nature of God.
Because prayer is an act of worship, to offer a prayer based on such a heinous perversion of God’s character is tantamount to worshiping a false god. To put it bluntly, when someone presents God with a wish list rooted in greed, materialism, or other expressions of pure self-interest, then demands that God deliver the goods as if He were a genie, that is no prayer at all. It is an act of blasphemy. It is as abominable as the crassest form of pagan worship.
The prayers of godly people in Scripture were nothing like that.